Tommy Robinson libel case: Trial set to go ahead after ruling

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Tommy RobinsonImage source, PA
Image caption,
Tommy Robinson is being sued for damages for online comments he made

A High Court judge has ruled on allegedly libellous remarks made by Tommy Robinson about a Syrian boy.

The English Defence League founder is being sued by Jamal Hijazi, who featured in a viral video of a playground attack.

The family's case against Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, centres on comments made on Facebook.

In a preliminary ruling, Mr Justice Nicklin rejected arguments from both sides.

The original footage, widely shared in 2018, showed Mr Hijazi being pushed to the ground and threatened with drowning at Almondbury School in Huddersfield.

Videos made by Mr Yaxley-Lennon, 37, claimed Mr Hijazi was "not innocent and he violently attacks young English girls in his school".

He also claimed Mr Hijazi "beat a girl black and blue" and "threatened to stab" another boy.

Mr Hijazi "emphatically denies" the allegations.

His lawyers claim Mr Yaxley Lennon's "racist invective" led to the teenager and his family being targeted by "far-right activists" and forced them to leave the area.

Image source, Other
Image caption,
A video showing Mr Hijazi, then aged 15, being assaulted was circulated on social media

At a preliminary hearing in March, Mr Justice Nicklin was asked to determine the "natural and ordinary" meaning of Mr Yaxley-Lennon's remarks.

Delivering his ruling, the judge rejected Mr Hijazi's claim that Mr Yaxley-Lennon's statements would be understood to suggest other "incidents of violence" beyond those identified in the two videos.

"In my judgment, the viewer would recognise that the defendant was making a specific allegation of violent conduct against the claimant," he said.

The ordinary and reasonable viewer of the videos would understand Mr Robinson to have been speaking "figuratively" when he said Mr Hijazi was "not innocent, he attacks young girls".

But the judge also rejected Mr Yaxley-Lennon's suggested meaning of the statements, which, he said, "fails to capture the gravity of the allegation being made against the claimant", namely, that the girl had been "beaten black and blue".

Mr Yaxley-Lennon's interpretation also "ignores, completely, the allegation of a threat to stab the boy that is made clearly in the first video", the judge said.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Nicklin stated: "It is important to note that the court is only dealing with the issue of meaning.

"The defendant has advanced a defence of truth. Unless the parties resolve the litigation, that issue (and others) will be determined at a later trial."

'Other side of the story'

At the hearing in March, Mr Hijazi's barrister Ian Helme told the court one of Yaxley-Lennon's two videos had been viewed more than 850,000 times within 24 hours.

Both clips were "short, sharp videos designed for the social media age - they are viewable instantaneously and repeatedly", he said.

William Bennett QC, for Mr Yaxley-Lennon, said his client did not deny that he had made serious allegations, adding: "He wanted to... bring them to the attention of the world."

He argued that the viral video "was interpreted on social media as an example of racist bullying", which "led to a massive social media witch-hunt of the alleged assailant which ultimately caused him and his family to have to flee Huddersfield".

He added: "(Robinson's) case is that when he posted the videos in issue, he was trying to present the other side of the story - that, in fact, the claimant had been violent towards other children and that there was a background to the incident which was not being talked about."

At a previous hearing last November, Mr Bennett said Robinson's defence would focus on "those people who say they were assaulted by the claimant and the claimant's denials that he assaulted them".

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